We Are So Acculturated

We are so steeped in the culture, we don’t even know where the culture ends and we begin. So much of the culture slipped in under the radar of our pre-cognitive brains when we were small children that we can’t see what in us belongs to the culture and what belongs to our self.

This little story will show how I became aware of the culture’s influence in my life. I grew up in the nineteen forties and fifties. At that time Marilyn Monroe was the epitome of what a woman should be—smart, funny, sexy, beautiful. Some time in the 1990’s I happened to catch her movie, “Some Like It Hot,” on my TV. My reaction to her appearance on the small screen was this: “She’s fat!”

It turns out that Marilyn wore a size 12 or 14. In the intervening years the advertising and movie and television industries had promoted an almost anorexic symbol –size 2 or less–of womanhood and had changed my mind without my awareness! I was astounded and concerned about what else had those forces changed in me, subtly and unconsciously.

Standards like what women should look like, what men do and don’t do, what Americans are about, what our priorities are, how we go about things and more are absorbed through the culture when we are growing up; these ideas are unlikely to be challenged because they seemingly are such an unquestioned part of us. They can evolve and change as the culture changes, as my story about Marilyn Monroe illustrates.

The same cultural identity is true of religion; it also evolves subtlely, too. Did you come of age in the forties and fifties when the definition of God was set in the Old Testament stories of the big Guy in the Sky with a thunderbolt?

Or did you come of age in the 00’s and teens of the 21st Century where the need for God and religion are barely seen in the national psyche? Or only as a bully-pulpit used by politicians? In the intervening years God and the church lost a lot of ground because of 1)scandals in Catholic and Protestant churches, 2) politicians who are evangelical protestants cramming religion down our throats, 3) the politics of abortion in which the new life, the fetus, was celebrated, but the growing child’s needs had no significance and 4) the rejection and condemnation of the LGBT community by many Christians.

The church is leeching membership today as a whole. We seem destined to be like the nominal Christian states of Europe where everyone claims to be Christian, but people only go to church to get married, to baptize their children and to bury their dead.

From the Post-World War II years to now the hypocrisy in the Christian church has loosened the hold that religion once had on our nation. Today religion has a bad name. It has disappointed. It is not relevant. The churches are filled with hypocrites. Everyone is spiritual, but only a few want to be religious.

We are dealing with the culture’s definition of God, and each church’s definition of God not God him- or her-self as revealed in the Scriptures. We are dealing with our own mindsets, reality seen through a cultural lens, but not with reality itself. We are dealing with the false self’s images, not the truth. We can’t see the truth because we are looking at God through the lenses of the false self and the culture.

Until we give up our assumptions, our expectations, our preferences, our own special way of seeing everything, especially ourselves and God—products of the culture and the false self– we will not be able to see the truth, the “truth that will set you free.” [John 8:32 NIV] Every church is a culture as well, and has its own ways of interpreting the Scriptures and limiting the truth.

Our assumptions in this culture revolve around the accumulation of wealth and things: that unless you have enough of everything, you can’t be happy. The story that we all buy into is that if you have enough education, a good enough job and a good enough car and a house in the right neighborhood, then you will be happy. Have you asked around your friends and neighbors to see if anyone is truly happy? It’s a myth.

Our preferences of how we want life to go, to not suffer, to not get sick, to get rich, to have everything we want—more myths. Have you looked around you to see the lie in this part of the cultural myth? By my 40’s it was clear to me that everyone in this life suffers—loss, jobs, illnesses, the death of someone close to them, including our own deaths. There is no way to insure against or to avoid that suffering.

The idea that we’re in control of our lives is another myth. First of all, life is all about change: it is dynamic. Everything is always changing. One of the constants in life is change. There is no way to control life or other people in our lives. We try, always unsuccessfully, to our great unhappiness, but we live as if we can.

With our belief in all these myths coloring the lens through which we see, it’s no wonder that we can’t see God well at all. We can only see our definition of him. We can only view him from our culture’s biased lens. Really, this is the truth: life is not going to be great for you until you can let go of all these myths and live in the real world. And there you will find God, no longer obscured by the cultural myths, but big and bold and intimate and mysterious, still creating, still calling us. S/he defies all definition. Our minds are much too limited to take God in. We can only see flashes of him, of his brilliance, of his action in our lives.

If we can let go of all these myths about life and God, then we can catch glimpses of the real thing. And begin to live a real life, not the made-up one we now inhabit.

Questions to ponder this week:

What is you image of God or how do you define God? What distorts the lens through which you view God? What would you have to let go of to see God clearly?

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